Along the South Coast of South Africa lies one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world, home to the Garden Route National Park.
A mosaic of ecosystems, it encompasses the world renowned Tsitsikamma and Wilderness sections, the Knysna Lake section, a variety of mountain catchment, Southern Cape indigenous forest and associated Fynbos areas. These areas resemble a montage of landscapes and seascapes, from ocean to mountain areas, and are renowned for its diverse natural and cultural heritage resources.
Managed by South African National Parks, it hosts a variety of accommodation options, activities and places of interest. A jewel in South Africa’s crown, the Park is a prime example of the country’s unique fauna and flora and will offer unforgettable views and life-long memories.
The part of the Wilderness Section which contains the Ebb & Flow Camp, the Serpentine and much of Langvlei originally formed part of the farm Kleinkranz, which was granted to JJ Viviers in 1818. Little is known of that period but in 1845 the land was transferred to Paul Gerber who moved there with his wife, four sons and two daughters.
Gerber did not subdivide the farm and, by the time of the third generation of the family, there were 37 people living on it. Early in the 20th century the western section was sold, with the Dumbleton family of Oakhurst and Fairy Knowe acquiring the westernmost section on both sides of the Touw River, and Donald McIntyre of Oudtshoorn buying a portion bordering Island Lake. Here he built “Glentyre”, the original name of the prominent house above the north shore of the lake.
The land north of the railway and adjoining the Touw river was administered for much of the 20th century by the George Divisional Council. Originally a public camping ground, it became the Ebb and Flow Nature reserve and was described as “closely overhung by the forest canopy; there is abundant bird life, and a quiet canoe trip up these slow-flowing waters is a memorable experience”. This is now Ebb & Flow North.
On the south bank of the Serpentine where it joined the Touw, the Siesta Caravan Park was run by Jack Nixon in the nineteen sixties and seventies. This spot, which originally belonged to the Dumbleton family, is now known as Ebb & Flow South and has become the headquarters for the park and its main restcamp.
The process of preserving the waterways of the Wilderness Lakes complex has been a long one. It started with the proclamation of the Lakes in 1968 and was to result in the formation of the Wilderness National Park in the 1980s, although this was by no means the end of the process, which remains ongoing.
With the formation of the Lakes Area Board in 1975, the way was cleared for the identification and acquisition of suitable land for preservation. This was initiated by the taking over of pieces of land near the river mouth, followed by 450 Ha which included the first two lakes and Duiwerivier kloof.
In 1983 the country’s first national lake area was proclaimed at Wilderness. At that time it was still under the control of the Lake Areas Development Board with the National Parks Board taking over in 1985 and the Wilderness National Park being proclaimed in 1987. In 1986, the year prior to proclamation, Swartvlei was brought into the area controlled by the Parks Board. With the inclusion in 1991 of the Lakes Nature Reserve at Rondevlei, from Cape Nature Conservation, the Park now formed a single unit stretching from the mouth of the Touw to the mouth of Swartvlei,including an important research facility at Rondevlei.
The lakes included a drowned river valley, Swartvlei; a drowned lowland, Langvlei, and a wind-formed and later flooded hollow, Rondevlei. In trying to manage an area which is under such intense pressure from developers, one of the significant actions of the Park involves regulating the hydraulics of the system so that the inhabitants in low-lying sections can be protected against abnormally high water levels, while simultaneously protecting the ecological functioning of the region.
The Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park is situated at the heart of the picturesque tourist region known as the Garden Route, found in the Southern Cape of South Africa. Tsitsikamma is a Khoisan (early inhabitants of the area) word meaning “place of much water”. The Park incorporates 80 km of rocky coastline with spectacular sea and landscapes, a remote mountainous region with secluded valleys covered in mountain Fynbos and temperate high forests with deep river gorges leading down to the sea.
The Tsitsikamma Section protects a wonderland of inter-tidal and marine life. This is one of the largest single unit ‘no take’ (including fishing) Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in the world, conserving 11 percent of South Africa’s Temperate South Coast rocky shoreline and provides a ‘laboratory’ for fisheries baseline research on endangered line fish species. In 1964 when it was proclaimed, it became the first Marine National Park to be proclaimed in Africa.
The Tsitsikamma Section has a long history of Marine and Forest utilisation and most of the local communities relied mostly, in one form or another, on these two ecosystems for their survival. The previous resource utilisation was of obvious economic value gained from the region and now incorporated into the Park. Today, the National Park contributes in a different way to the economic development of the region. Tsitsikamma National Park attracts tourists to the region, provides economic opportunities for local entrepreneurs, (local trail guides, adventure operators, transport services, infrastructure development & maintenance services, etc.) and as an implementing agency for poverty relief programmes, creates employment and training opportunities for some of the regions poverty stricken communities. Currently, two of the nationally running, poverty relief programs, namely Working for Water (Invasive Plant Clearing) and Coasts Care (Coastal Conservation) are operated within the Park.
The Tsitsikamma Section incorporates various cultural heritage sites ranging from Khoisan cultural heritage sites such as caves, shell middens and rock art to more recent cultural historic sites such as the ruins of small fisher settlements, remnants of the past forestry industries and grave sites. The park is currently embarking on a Cultural Mapping project with the aim of identifying and protecting all Cultural Heritage sites incorporated within the Park. An Oral History Collection project is being implemented currently to recover and interpret information relating to cultural heritage. The more recent history of the forestry and fishing industries that is still in the memories of older folk from the region, is the one thing that strongly connects local communities with the park and can enhance park-community relations. These processes will be developed and implemented in conjunction with local community members and the organisations representing community interests, as well as relevant academic institutions and researchers.
During the First World Conference on National Parks in Seattle in 1962, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) appealed to governments for the establishment of marine parks and reserves. The National Parks Board responded with the proclamation of the Tsitsikamma National Park. The original Coastal and Forest National Parks were proclaimed on in December 1964, by the then Minister of Forestry in conjunction with the Director of the National Parks Board (Government Gazette 1964). The original coastal park extended some 59 km between Groot River (east) (west of Oubosstrand) and Groot River (west) (at Nature’s Valley), and included the areas approximately 800m landward and 800m seaward of the low water mark (horizontal distance – contours ignored).
In September 1983 the seaward boundary of the park between the Groot River (east) and the Bloukrans River was extended to three nautical miles and the remainder (Bloukrans to Groot River, west) changed to 0.5 nautical miles offshore. (Government Gazette 1983). The small Tsitsikamma Forest National Park was deproclaimed in 1989 (Government Gazette 1989) and the coastal park became known as the Tsitsikamma National Park (TNP). In December 1987 the De Vasselot Reserve (2561 ha) was added to the park (Government Gazette 1987). During April 1996 an extension of the seaward boundary was proclaimed as part of the Tsitsikamma National Park. This section extends from Groot River (west) along the same seaward boundary to a point parallel to Grootbank and then back to the Groot River (west) along the high water mark.
Contractual areas (Schedule five National Parks) have, subsequent to the original proclamation, been added to this park. During March 1995 erven 382 and 444 and the remainder of erf 434 Nature’s Valley were added to Tsitsikamma as contractual areas. The farm Buitenverwachting was gazetted as a contractual National Park in 1996. In October 1991 a 30-year lease for the neighbouring Soetkraal area (24 372 ha) was signed with Rand Mines Properties Ltd.